|Directed by||Vincente Minnelli|
The Bad and the Beautiful is a 1952 MGM melodrama that tells the story of a film producer who alienates all around him. It stars Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame and Gilbert Roland. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by George Bradshaw and Charles Schnee.
|Cinematography||Robert L. Surtees|
In Hollywood, director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), movie star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) each refuse to speak by phone to Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) in Paris. Movie producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) gathers them in his office and explains that Shields was calling them because he has a new film idea and he wants the three of them for the project. Shields cannot get financing on his own, but with their names attached, there would be no problem. Pebbel asks the three to allow him to get Shields on the phone before they give their final answer.
As they await Shields’ call, Pebbel assures the three that he understands why they refused to speak to Shields. The backstory of their involvement with Shields then unfolds in a series of flashbacks. Shields is the son of a notorious former studio head who had been dumped by the industry. The elder Shields was so unpopular that his son had to hire “extras” to attend his funeral. Despite the industry’s ill feelings toward him because of his father, the younger Shields is determined to make it in Hollywood by any means necessary.
Shields partners with aspiring director Amiel, whom he meets at his father’s funeral. Shields intentionally loses money he does not have in a poker game to film executive Pebbel, so he can talk Pebbel into letting him work off the debt as a line producer. Shields and Amiel learn their respective trades making B movies for Pebbel. When one of their films becomes a hit, Amiel decides they are ready to take on a more significant project he has been nursing along, and Shields pitches it to the studio. Shields gets a $1 million budget to produce the film, but betrays Amiel by allowing someone with an established reputation to be chosen as director. The film’s success allows Shields to start his own studio, and Pebbel comes to work for him there. Amiel, now independent of Shields, goes on to become an Oscar-winning director in his own right.
Shields next encounters alcoholic small-time actress Lorrison, the daughter of a famous actor Shields admired. He builds up her confidence and gives her the leading role in one of his movies over everyone else’s objections. When she falls in love with him, he lets her think that he feels the same way so that she does not self-destruct and he gets the performance he needs. After a smash premiere makes her a star overnight, she finds him with a beautiful bit player named Lila (Elaine Stewart). He drives Lorrison away, telling her that he will never allow anyone to have that much control over him. Crushed over being jilted by Shields, Lorrison walks out on her contract with his studio. Rather than take her to court, Shields releases his rights to her, freeing her to go to another studio, which makes a fortune from her films as she becomes a top Hollywood star.
Finally, Bartlow is a contented professor at a small college who has written a bestselling book for which Shields has purchased the film adaptation rights. Shields wants Bartlow himself to write the film’s script. Bartlow is not interested, but his shallow Southern belle wife, Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) is, so he agrees to do it for her sake. They go to Hollywood, where Shields is annoyed to find that her constant distractions are keeping her husband from his work. He gets his suave actor friend Victor “Gaucho” Ribera (Gilbert Roland) to keep her occupied. Freed from interruption, Bartlow is able to make excellent progress on the script. Rosemary, however, runs off with Gaucho and they are killed in a plane crash. When the script is completed, Shields has the distraught Bartlow remain in Hollywood to help with the production as Shields takes over directing duties himself. A first-time director, Shields botches the job, which leads to his bankruptcy. Then Shields lets slip a casual remark that reveals his complicity in Rosemary’s affair with Gaucho, so Bartlow walks out on him. Now able to view his late wife more objectively, Bartlow goes on to write a novel based upon her (something Shields had previously encouraged him to do) and wins a Pulitzer Prize for it.
After each flashback, Pebbel sarcastically agrees that Shields “ruined” their lives, making his true point that each of the three, despite feeling betrayed, is now at the top of the movie business, thanks largely to Shields. At last, Shields’ telephone call comes through and Pebbel asks the three if they will work with Shields just one more time; all three reject the plea. As they leave the room, Pebbel is still talking to Shields. Out of Pebbel’s sight, the three eavesdrop using an extension phone while Shields describes his new idea, and they become more and more interested.
Relation to real-life personalities
There has been much debate as to which real-life Hollywood legends are represented by the film’s characters. At the time of the film’s release, stories about its basis caused David O. Selznick — whose real life paralleled in some respects that of the “father-obsessed independent producer” Jonathan Shields — to have his lawyer view the film and determine whether it contained any libelous material. Shields is thought to be a blending of Selznick, Orson Welles and Val Lewton. Lewton’s Cat People is clearly the inspiration behind the early Shields-Amiel film Doom of the Cat Men.
The Georgia Lorrison character is the daughter of a “Great Profile” actor like John Barrymore (Diana Barrymore‘s career was in fact launched the same year as her father’s death), but it can also be argued that Lorrison includes elements of Minnelli’s ex-wife Judy Garland. Gilbert Roland‘s Gaucho may almost be seen as self-parody, as he had recently starred in a series of Cisco Kid pictures, though the character’s name, Ribera, would seem to give a nod also to famed Hollywood seducer Porfirio Rubirosa. The director Henry Whitfield (Leo G. Carroll) is a “difficult” director modeled on Alfred Hitchcock, and his assistant Miss March (Kathleen Freeman) is modeled on Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville. The James Lee Bartlow character may have been inspired by Paul Eliot Green, the University of North Carolina academic-turned-screenwriter of The Cabin in the Cotton.
A bit of a soap opera, this film was divided into three segments as people recalled their experiences with “Jonathan Shields,” played well by Kirk Douglas.
“Shields” was a guy interested in making movies and he used people to get to the top. Three of these people tell of their dealings with him, and none of them have too many good things to say.
I liked the first and third segments but didn’t care for the middle one with Lana Turner simply because Turner became so melodramatic, too hysterical for me. Barry Sullivan was excellent in the first part and helped get me into the story. He was the director who got “screwed” by Douglas.
Turner was the unknown actress whom Douglas turned into a star while the last part dealt with the key screenwriter for Douglas, played by Dick Powell. I thought Powell was the best of the four main characters of the film but his segment was the shortest, unfortunately. As good as he was, his wife was equally as annoying. She was played by the normally entertaining and alluring Gloria Grahame, who was anything but that in this role. She sounded ludicrous with her fake southern accent. How she won an Academy Award for this role is mind- boggling.
Some classify this movie as film noir, but I dispute that. It’s simply a straight drama with soapish overtones. It’s well-written, however, and keeps one’s interest all the way, so I am not knocking this movie. It has a good things going for it.